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We had a morning flight back to New Orleans on Monday, so Sunday would be the last day we had to fish. Greg had given us a tip about a lake we should hike to before we left town. He had assured us the hike wasn’t too bad, maybe 45 minutes tops. He also promised us greenbacks, bigger than those we caught on Friday . To top it off, we would be sightfishing for these fish, they would be cruising the banks, all we needed to do was place a dry fly in their path and they’ll do the rest. It sounded too good to pass up, so no matter how bad the hike would be, that was where we were headed Sunday. 45 minutes? It can’t be too bad.

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45 minutes my ass. That hike took much longer, it was at least three miles long, pretty much uphill the last two miles. We didn’t expect that, we should have, but we didn’t. Of course the local guy is going to short sell the hike, he probably does it weekly. I’m not complaining though, it was an amazing hike. It was obvious why Greg pointed us in this direction. Scenic views everywhere you turned, sheer rock faces, stands of yellow aspen, waterfalls – it had it all. Blake and I were definitely huffing and puffing though. The whole way up I was thinking, “this lake better be full of big, dumb fish”.

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Seeing the lake was like seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert. A sight for sore eyes to say the least. Greg had tried to convince us to go hit a different spot in the Park in the afternoon and not spend the entire day at the lake, but once we started fishing it was hard to leave. The lake was shallow, clear, and surrounded by rock walls on three out of four sides. As we walked up to the lake we could see cutthroat holding in the shallows. I had to rig up, but Blake was ready. It didn’t take long for him to catch fish. He had three before I could even tie a fly on. We got the feeling that we were in for a great day.

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It would be a great day. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a fish on every cast. Most were actually somewhat selective which led to some frustration. You know the feeling, you can see ’em, but you couldn’t catch ’em. The bigger ones were especially like that. Still there were some that would gobble up whatever landed in front of them. I downsized everything, went to a 6x leader, with 7x tippet and didn’t fish anything bigger than a size 18. They were keying in on something very tiny. I figured it was some sort of midge, so at the end of the day I had a small griffith’s gnat on that was doing pretty well. The elk hair caddis did pretty well too. It was beautiful up there, and the weather was perfect, with a little bit of wind coming picking up in the afternoon. All good things must come to an end though and we had to hike out, knowing our trip was virtually over.

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We tried to stop by Estes Angler to see if our friend Chris was working, but they were closed by the time we got there, so we headed over to Kirks Fly Shop to look around. That’s one thing I loved about Colorado, a fly shop and a brewery in every town. There was still daylight when we got back to the cabin, I had to wet a line in the Big T right outside the cabin. You can’t stay at a cabin on the river and not fish the river it’s on. Blake threw some burgers on the grill in the broiler as I fished. In the waning hours of our adventure I was able to land the last fish of the trip, a brightly colored up rainbow within spitting distance of our patio. What better way to end a fantastic trip. A trip that really only took place because I was able to score cheap plane tickets from Southwest. Blake and I knew we wanted to go somewhere before he and his wife have their baby this winter, but we really didn’t expect it would be to Colorado. I’m glad it was though, a lot of good memories were made there.

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Saturday we woke up bright and early to make the 2 hour drive west through the Park and over the Continental Divide on Trail Ridge Rd. to meet up with our guide-friend Greg for a float on the Upper Colorado. The drive was absolutely stunning and leaving at twilight meant there were no other cars on the road (people start their days much later in Colorado than in Louisiana), so we had the road all to ourselves. Everywhere you looked was a breathtaking view, especially once we got above the treeline. As we approached Milner Pass we stopped to take pictures of a bull elk feeding right on the side of the road. We rolled down the window and Blake yells “Hey elk!” and almost on queue the elk struck a pose for us as we snapped a quick pic, then we were on our way. As we winded our way down the mountains and into the valley that holds the Colorado River headwaters we spotted a couple of animals we had yet to see, moose. They looked to be calves, we stopped and grabbed a quick pic of them as well. First time I’ve ever seen moose in the wild. The drive continued past Lake Grandby and followed the Colorado River until we hit our destination.

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We were meeting up with our friend Greg, who would be taking us down the Colorado on his Down River raft. The plan was to float a section of the river that permitted a lot of wade fishing as well. We were in no hurry and the weather was too beautiful to just bust ass down river, plus Greg knew some good spots to wade fish. He showed us what we should be throwing and we rigged up our rods to match. Almost immediately after taking off from the ramp Blake hooks up with a fish.

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I was off to a slow start at the back of the boat while Blake proceeded to catch a few fish. I caught a small brown to get the skunk off, then another that was a little bigger while wading. Blake was on a roll and caught a nice brown while he was wading.

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We got back in the boat and kept heading downstream, it wasn’t long before we’d get out and wade again, but that also meant it wasn’t long before Blake would be hooked up again at the front of the boat. As for me, I was a mess in the back of the boat. I couldn’t put a proper hookset on a fish to save my life. It was only my 2nd time fishing for trout from a boat and it showed. Blake was making it look easy. I was having an easier time when I was wading. I picked up a couple rainbows at the next stop. Greg took off upstream and really showed us how it’s done, which was good, because I could just watch him and emulate. I could tell I had to work on my line control, make shorter drifts, and just be quicker on the set.

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It was neat to see all the trains pass as we made our way down river, I couldn’t help but think of what an awesome train ride that must be following along the Colorado River, through multiple canyons across the Colorado countryside. We had been having a great day so far, Blake had a few nice browns and lots of other decent ones, while I caught a few decent fish, but many on the smaller side, which I’m convinced is harder to do, since their mouths are smaller. Anyway, by this time I was on the front of the boat and my luck still hadn’t changed. When I wasn’t all tangled up, I was missing hooksets, or catching dinks.

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As we were approaching a set of rapids, Greg is telling us to get ready to cast at one side because fish will be holding there, but before we get there we needed to hit the holding water immediately above the rapid on each side. Naturally I’m casting left and Blake, in the rear, is casting right. As I go into my backcast his forward cast rolls through and we get tangled. I just remember thinking, “Ugh, are you kidding me?!” Luckily it wasn’t too bad and I was able to untangle us before we completely made it through the rapid. On my second cast in the rapid I get hooked up with my best fish of the day, then shortly after Blake sticks one as well, so we’re both hooked up riding through the rapid. Greg tells Blake to ride it out with the fish on as I net my fish. Well around that time, a rock comes out of nowhere and knocks the rear of the raft to one side. All I see is Blake’s body go flying toward the side of the boat, right arm high trying to keep rod up, left arm reaching out for something to grab on. Unfortunately he grabbed on to the swivel seat he was sitting on and he slipped right out the boat. So he goes in the water, but luckily is able to get his feet under himself and recover his footing, while somehow still maintaining contact with the raft. The line isn’t taught, but as he reels it in he still has the fish on. Through this whole process I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to do, but the first thought in my mind wasn’t “Are you alright?”, rather it was “Keep that rod tip up”. I know, what kind of a friend does that make me? He was alright after all and jumped back in the boat and we were able to net the fish with mine. Turns out his was bigger than mine too, go figure. It was a moment of utter chaos and one that we laughed a good bit about. It was really no fault of Greg’s that Blake was jettisoned, we were all paying attention to the the double hook up and no one saw the rock. I have no idea how we were able to land those two fish and not lose anything either.

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We had to re-rig after the incident, once we netted both those fish we were all tangled up. After that we got out and did some wading and proceeded to stick some more fish. I managed to blow it on my last good chance of the day when I made a cast behind a rock and watched as a brown launched himself out of the water for my fly, full body exposed. I fought him for a few seconds, before he took my fly with him. He would have been my nicest on the day, maybe even the biggest of the trip, but it wasn’t in the cards. Really I’m just thankful I got to experience the thrill of watching him eat, it was incredible.

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We popped open a couple beers and relaxed for the rest of the float, recapped the day’s events and watched a bald eagle soar through the air. It was really a great trip, one that will surely stick with me for awhile. Fishing with Greg was a lot of fun, he’s got that water dialed in, I learned a good bit from him and we came away with some quality fish stories. I felt like I was a better fisherman at the end of the day than I was at the start.

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On the drive back we stopped at Milner Pass, I had to get the picture of the Divide sign, I missed it on the way there, and take a few more pictures of the mountains. We happened to make the drive on Trail Ridge for both sunrise and sunset. There were far more people on the road in the evening than in the morning. Greg gave us a tip on a place to eat in Estes after we dogged the Estes Park Brewery (good beer, below average food). It was Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ, and it was delicious, so Greg was hitting on all cylinders on Saturday. Especially considering he clued us in on where we needed to fish in the Park on Sunday.

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The creek we hit on Friday came recommended from Mike at Laughing Grizzly. It was one I had read about, but not considered because I wasn’t really sure how we would do on long hikes in the Park. “Long” to me must be different to everyone else, because this one was considered short. I really wasn’t sure our lungs could handle it, but he assured us it wasn’t bad and as long as we kept hydrated and were feeling fine than it would be no problem for us.

We made it to the trailhead at around 8am after a short drive from Estes and found the parking lot pretty sparse with only a few hikers getting ready. Saw more elk and even a couple mule deer on the drive over. It’s becoming apparent that elk are like feral cats in these parts.

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The hike in was about 2 miles and it really wasn’t too bad. We stopped a few times to take pictures and catch our breath, but made it to the barrier falls in good time (much like brookies in the South, we were after the greenback cutthroat that lived above the falls). At this point the trail breaks away from the creek and heads off in a different direction. We were supposed to take a trail to the left, but it went unnoticed by us as a group of tourists shrouded it’s beginning. We of course went off to the right, up what looked like might be a trail only to discover that it really wasn’t. Rather than doing the smart thing and heading back down we bushwhacked our way all the way up the falls on the right side until we got to an area we were able to fish. Shortly after I noticed the well worn trail to the left and we finally had our first “duh” moment on the trip.

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Even above the falls the creek was pretty vertical and holding water was limited. We hit any pocket that looked a like a good place to hide, but failed to catch any fish for what seemed like hours. We weren’t even seeing fish and we hit some good looking spots. Of course when that happens your mind starts racing as you run through all the reasons why there aren’t any fish:

– There must be someone fishing ahead of us

– Something tramped through here yesterday and all the fish still have lockjaw

– That guy at the shop is full of shit and just wanted to give us tourists a rough time

– Maybe it’s just too early here and the fish need time to warm up

Then I caught one, a beautiful greenback, and like someone turned on the light switch, we started catching them. Not here or there either, it was nearly every hole. They would slowly rise to the fly and sip it in. Not like the brookies of the South, that murder a fly with reckless abandon. These fish were graceful, elegant, if they had pinkies they would be raised as they ate the fly. All those fears about catching fish were washed away, Mike was a saint in our eyes, and everything was right in the world (except for the smudge on the camera lens).

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We continued fishing up until we hit a trail crossing, then took a short detour to check out a lake. I hadn’t read anything about the lake, so we thought it could be fish-less, had to check it out regardless. We didn’t see any cruisers from the shoreline, just a lonesome duck. We headed back to the creek and continued upstream. The upstream section was flatter, and even had a bit of a meadow feel to it. Still plenty of hungry cutthroat, but the action did start to slow.

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As the creek began to start going vertical again we decided to turn it around and head out. We had caught plenty of Colorado’s state fish and wanted to make it back to Estes while it was still daylight. The trek down wouldn’t be as bad either, now that we found the correct trail to take around the falls. Plus waiting for us at the car were a couple of cold beers. The drive back to Estes had a couple good photo ops, but nothing like the drive we would take the next day on Trail Ridge Rd, above the tree line and over the Continental Divide, then westward toward the Colorado.

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We arrived in Denver Thursday around noon via direct flight from New Orleans. Prior to leaving a co-worker and I were talking about me heading to Denver and he sent me a link to an article on The Chive about the conspiracy theories surrounding the airport – an interesting, albeit strange read. Never having been through the Denver airport I had no idea, so of course I had to take a picture of one of the murals once I got there. Sure enough the creepiest one was on the way to baggage claim. After that we picked up a rental Jeep Patriot and hit the tollway to head north toward our cabin. We were taking our time as we had a few stops to make along the way.

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First stop was Laughing Grizzly Fly Shop in Longmont, where we talked with Mike Kruise and Dick Shinton about fishing in the Park. I did a bunch of research prior to coming out to Colorado and had some places we might want to hit in mind, but these guys helped narrow down that list and pointed us in the right direction to find the target species, greenback cutthroat trout. Local knowledge will always trumps what is picked up in a book or on the internet, so this stop was a must. The shop itself was very cool and they had a great selection of flies, though Dick helped us pick out what works in the Park. It was great meeting/chatting with Mike and Dick, they couldn’t have been more helpful and down to Earth, really made us out-of-towners feel welcome. Definitely, go see ’em if you’re ever in the area.

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Next we picked up groceries and a couple local beer variety packs before continuing our trip up to Estes. When it comes to vacations & beer I always make it a point to try something local/can’t get at home, so this trip was no exception. And with Colorado being known for it’s craft brew, I knew we really couldn’t go wrong. In Lyons we stopped at Oskar Blues Grill & Brew for lunch. Dale’s Pale Ale is one of my favorites, so I knew the beer wouldn’t be bad. It was cool to see the St. Vrain from the table at lunch, I couldn’t help but think about Gierach, the original Trout Bum, we’d basically be fishing in his backyard. The burgers were above average and Blake and I got to try a couple beers besides Dale’s, but we stopped at one since we just flew in. I’ve been paranoid about getting altitude sickness in the days leading up to the trip, so we made sure to stay hydrated, slamming waters whenever they were available. Heck, I even started taking ginkgo daily because I read it helps circulation. I’m happy to report that neither of us had any problems with the elevation the entire trip.

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After a short drive from Lyons we made it to Estes Park. It wasn’t long before we got a glimpse of our first wildlife, turkey, when we stopped to take a picture of the sign. Sidenote, I find it funny that I see turkey, squirrels, rabbit at home a good bit, but for some reason felt compelled to photograph them all in Colorado. After the turkey were the elk, lots of them, throughout town too. That came as a surprise to me, but by the end of the trip I realized it shouldn’t have. They were everywhere in the Park and outside the Park, big bulls following herds of females, bugling at times. I read about the elk, but I never expected to see so many. I guess I’m just use to living in Louisiana, where if it’s brown, it’s down.

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The cabin was a small 2 bedroom deal, situated right on the Big Thompson River. The perfect size for the two of us and it even came with wolfpack curtains. Curtains that were certain to ward off any curious wildlife. We weren’t sure how much time we’d spend fishing here, but it was nice to have the option to cast a line out the back door. Realizing we were burning daylight, we quickly unpacked the car and got our packs ready to go to do some late afternoon fishing in the Park. The inflated bag of chips was our first sign that there is a significant elevation change from Longmont to Estes.

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We fished Moraine Park that evening, since it was close, we didn’t have much daylight, and seeing elk was still fresh and cool. Meadow fishing was new and different for us, it was something we wanted to try while we were here, so fishing Moraine was pretty fun. The water was crystal clear and the fish hid in the undercut banks, you would see them dart out to hit a passing meal, or better yet one of our flies. We caught a few brookies and brownies, our first fish to hand in Colorado. Top that off with a couple celebratory brews back at the cabin and we couldn’t ask for a better start to a great trip

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Just got back from Colorado, the trip was a total success. Couldn’t have asked for better weather or more willing fish. I’ll post the full rundown of the trip later in the week, first a quick update from Sunday.

Blake and I hiked into a backcountry lake to fish for more cutties. It was a tough hike, but very rewarding. The scenery was amazing and cutthroat sipped well placed dries like it was their job. These greenbacks are the most beautiful trout I’ve ever caught.